Big Love: The Writing on the Wall
(S02E2) Poor Barb.
While reeling from cancer treatment years ago, she agreed to let her husband Bill plunge the pair into polygamy, even though she really wasn't keen on the notion.
Then she was publicly humiliated when her family's polygamy became quasi-public and she was disqualified from a state Mother of the Year contest. Ashamed, she withdrew from the world in order to figure out where she fit in her own life. Although she toyed with the idea of leaving the polygamist Henrickson clan, she finally agreed to continue playing "boss wife" because she truly loves Bill, and her sister wives.
But as a condition of returning to the fold of Bill's multiple wives, Barb said she wanted to go back to college. And in doing so she became, as Bill said, "aglow." In a scene from the second episode of the second season, Barb was sitting in the University of Utah courtyard as students bustled around about her, and she looked wistful and serene. In between classes, she visited Bill at his Home Plus HQ and breathlessly told him, "It's been the best day of my life Bill. I love being back at the U."
Then she was harshly sucked back into reality where she is but one spouse amidst the masses. She and Bill learned that they forgot Bill and Nicki's anniversary. (Bill, of course, blamed Barb for forgetting to remind him.) And, with a single cell phone call from Margene telling them that Nicki was upset, Barb blew off the remainder of "the best day" of her life in order to make Nicki lamb chops, strawberries and a coconut cake. It was as if Barb's half day of getting to live her life on her own terms was just a blip on the radar screen. And for that, I felt sad. However I remain convinced that Barb isn't done trying to liberate herself from a situation she entered into only because the love of her life asked her to. I predict that every little slight, every little chipping away of Barb's attempts to regain control over her own life will come back to haunt Bill in one form or another.
The differences between Barb's view of this polygamous marriage and the other wives' perspectives was crystal clear from the odd conversation she had with Nicki at the end of the episode. After the two women professed their love for one another, Nicki said, "I didn't marry for love, I married for the principle." To which Barb replied: "I tried. I don't know that I have a testimony for the principle . . .[but] I love our family more and more." (Foreshadowing?) Barb is caught between her true affection for Nicki and Margene and the children, and the fact that she isn't living the lifestyle she really wants.
Also in this week's episode, Bill finally paid a price for this lifestyle and for unwisely making himself the face of his Home Plus stores. One of the home improvement store's new billboards in a highly trafficked location was defaced. A spray paint wielding vandal changed the slogan from "Home Plus is us," to, "Home Plus is us + us + us + us." Bill -- who couldn't quite allow himself to consider that perhaps his polygamy made him a questionable spokesman for Home Plus -- was drawn to the defaced sign throughout the day, as he stood there, gazing up at it as if he couldn't quite believe what he was seeing. When he and his fellow Home Plus polygamist Don finally got some people to paint over the graffiti, Bill said, "I feel trapped . . . I just want a normal existence without retribution." Is he for real or just deluding himself? This retribution was extremely mild and I'm shocked this has been the only response to the debacle at the Utah Mother of the Year contest. I envisioned the local newspaper reporters getting a hold of this story and going with it, particularly because Bill is linked to the polygamist compound run by the cult-like leader Roman Grant, who also happens to be Bill's father-in-law. Talk about a juicy news story. Bill should count his lucky stars that a little spray paint is, thus far, his only public admonishment.
As for the compound, well, this is my least favorite aspect of Big Love. While I'm riveted by the relationship between the three Henrickson wives, Juniper Creek seems like a foreign place to me, another country, where Roman Grant is akin to a war lord who tells people who they can marry and who they can't, who assigns unwilling girls to be the spouses of wrinkly old men. The compound gives me the creeps.
The big development in this episode was that Alby Grant, who was poisoned by the unstable Wanda Henrickson (Bill's sister-in-law), defied his father Roman and went to the state police when Roman refused to penalize those responsible for his poisoning. (Roman instead blackmailed Joey Henrickson into doing his bidding on the compound's governing board.) This led state cops to Joey and Wanda's door, where Joey, in a brave attempt to save his wife, confessed to the poisoning. Like with Barb, I feel for Joey's character as he seems like yet another pawn, a quiet, nice guy who's pushed around and influenced by more powerful people who are promoting their own interests.
I've been waiting for the impact of the poisoning incident to finally reach the Sandy, Utah home. This week was the first time (that I could recall) where Nicki actually discussed with a sister-wife the fact that her brother was poisoned by her sister-in-law. "Did Wanda really poison your brother? Why?" Margene asked her. Nicki's reply was classic: "You met him."